Interview

Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

Fresh secrets from the mystic east

Chris Easton is a man on a mission, and that mission is to tell the world about the new look Prince of Persia, described by publisher Ubisoft as a 'reset' of the franchise. A new 'illustrative' art style has been introduced, and the gameplay is likely to be refined too. Oh, and there's the small matter of the Prince's sexy sidekick as well. We sat down with Ubisoft Montreal's community developer to learn more.

I hope you're enjoying Ubidays. What is your involvement in the new Prince of Persia game at Ubisoft Montreal, Chris?

I'm basically the community developer for Prince of Persia, so my job is to create community related angles and assets, and support the community as much as possible with what they want from the game. So... if someone who's a fan of the series says "I'd like to see this" through online forums, its my job to communicate that to the development team. Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

Hopefully I can help the developers integrate community ideas into Prince of Persia, while also communicating any changes or progress on the game back to the community, through web forums, videos and more.

What's the most called-for feature so far?

Right now? Well, I suppose there's lots of Sands of Time fans, and obviously they're calling for an epic story and platforming. They're saying don't focus so much on The Two Thrones, look at The Sands of Time. We're looking at more platforming and puzzles. This is what we're doing with this version of The Prince of Persia; it is more focussed on open-world gameplay, its all about platforming, moving through the world, creating a flow of action. All through this beautful, almost fantasy world.

Has Assassin's Creed been influential in this respect, given that the game is based on the same engine? Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

Well, its a really really good engine. It lends itself well because the games share similar gameplay mechanics. The team have basically taken the Assassin's Creed engine and improved upon it, adding there own visual features and effects unique to Prince of Persia. You can see from the style here that there are certain things missing from Assassin's Creed, that have now been added.

So, has the free-flowing gameplay of Assassin's Creed influenced this new title?

Well, not really. Obviously both games are developed at Ubisoft Montreal, so ideas are shared between teams, people talk to each other, etc. But this Prince of Persia was started right after The Two Thrones was completed, and it was in development at the same time. So, there's a little influence there I guess, but really they've just tried to make this epic game, with really cool gameplay. You can literally flow through a level, hitting a rhythm. There's a section in this one level for example, where you want to run across a bridge, undertake a wall run, jump across to a pillar, grab another pillar, jump to a beam, spring of this, wall run across, and onwards. You're constantly thinking how can I create these actions. Timing and rhythm is key. It's not like Assassin's Creed where you walk up to a wall to climb; you have hit all the right spots.

It's a really fluid flow of action, and it works really nicely. This is what Prince of Persia is all about. Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

Can players control Elika (the game's appealing new heroine), or perhaps control her as a second co-op player?

She is purely an AI character. The whole thing for Elika is to improve the gameplay mechanics of Prince of Persia. Other games have had secondary characters, and they've used them okay. Sometimes these characters get lost, get stuck in scenery, attack the wrong enemies - generally cause chaos. With Elika we're hoping to create this secondary character who won't annoy you. She'll support you through specific gameplay dynamics, but you won't be frustrated by her.

There's a button on the controller, called the 'Elika button' at present, and whenever you want her to help you, or you want her information or assistance, she'll leap in - play her role - and leap out. She's a key part of the story, and of the gameplay, but she'll only be there when you need her, and she'll never hinder you. She's there just when you want her.

Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

The game is called Prince of Persia, but at the game's outset he's not a Prince. He's a wanderer, a drifter, moving from A to B, finding gold, blowing it on wine, etc. One day, however, he gets caught in a sandstorm, and here he meets this girl. Who's beautiful. She's called Elika, and she asks for his help.

Being a red-blooded male, he agrees to assist her, and they then start to travel - and witness the destruction of the 'tree of life'. Basically, there are two gods, the god of darkness and the god of light. The god of darkness was locked in the tree after being defeated by the god of light, and there he remained, the local population charged with keeping him locked inside.

The god of darkness breaks free of course, unleashing corruption across the landscape - a black goo which begins spreading; destroying everything. The Prince and Elika must stop the god of darkness from taking over the world by fighting this 'corruption', make the land a beautiful place again.

The new aesthetics are particularly interesting. What was the motivation behind this? Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

In the development of previous Prince of Persia games, well, in any game actually, you need lots of concept art. Characters, landscapes, 3D models, etc. When we finished The Two Thrones, the art director basically said 'we've got probably the best concept artists and illustrators in the industry, creating amazing pictures, and we're taking these images and making them 3D'. Its close the original vision but its not exactly the same. He said, 'why not take these pictures, zoom in, and bring them alive'. An interactive painting. We have beautiful paintings, and now we're entering and interacting with this world.

We call it an illustrative style, and this is where it comes from.

Which platforms will the game launch on?

It's Xbox 360, PS3, PC and there's a complimentary DS title too. Chris Easton on The Prince of Persia

No Wii title?

We have yet to announce any Wii plans at this stage.

[Chuckles]

What work is being done to ensure the third-person camera doesn't frustrate players?

We've got a team in Ubisoft dedicated to camera work. Their sole job is to make sure the cinematics work with the normal gameplay. Angles and the like, creating best the motion, the best shots. This helps with atmosphere, immersion. We're hoping that with Prince of Persia and other future releases there won't be times when the camera goes nuts and leaves you looking at a wall, or the floor! Or anything like that.

Freedom sounds like an important element. Is this an 'open-world' game?

Hmm. It's... not open-world in the GTA sense. This isn't one big city. Its open-world in the sense that there are levels through the game, which offer you choices on how you progress. It's hard to explain... the levels are designed to give you multiple routes, but these aren't of the A, B, C variety. Rather you define your own route as you play, leaping between all as you move along.

Is Assassin's Creed a good comparison?

It's potentially a good comparison. It's a bit like the kingdom part of that game. The way in which there are multiple ways to navigate through this area. There are areas you will return to, and you can choose your path - for example if you want an easy life you might be able to navigate via a corruption-free area, or if you want some action you can go through a 'corrupted' region. You have lots of choice, although its hard to explain without a picture!

Will Elika be a love interest for the Prince?

I don't think so... no. Not... that I'm aware. He's a guy. She's really hot. If they get on well, we'll see what happens, but if they don't... well, we'll see.

Will Elika be a part of future games in the Prince of Persia series?

She is essential to the story of this game, so yes, she could play a part.

Is this the start of a new trilogy?

Right now we only have official plans for this game.

[More child-like giggles from your humble reporter]

How has the game been received so far?

Very positively so far! The creative direction is new, and everyone has been wowed. They think it's beautiful. I'm really happy about this, because the art direction is all about bringing illustrations to life. It's sort of like 'yay', we did something right!

Is the focus on puzzling, platforming, or combat?

There are puzzles, but there's a lot of platforming and a lot of combat as well.

When is it out? Is this the full name?

Holiday 2008 - Q3 if you prefer. Just Prince of Persia! Not Heir Apparent, or Prodigy, or whatever else you might have read online. Just Prince of Persia!

Thanks for your time, Chris.